Allmendinger released by Penske Racing
1 August 2012
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger has been released by Penske Racing in the wake of his positive drugs test result last month.
Allmendinger is currently on indefinite suspension from all NASCAR competition following the drugs test result, and will remain so until he has undergone a mandatory 'road to recovery' rehabilitation program having waived his right of appeal over the test findings.
That's likely not to be before the end of the current season, and Allmendinger only had a one-year deal with Penske Racing in the #22 Shell-Pennzoil car.
"Penske Racing fully supports NASCAR's substance abuse policy and we are disappointed with AJ's positive drug test results," said Roger Penske in a statement released by the team on Wednesday. "The decision to dismiss him is consistent with how we would treat any other Penske Racing team member under similar circumstances."
Penske added: "AJ is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time. We have invested greatly in AJ and we were confident in his success with our team," he said. "As AJ begins NASCAR's 'Road to Recovery' program, we wish him the best and look forward to seeing him compete again in NASCAR."
In a separate statement, AJ Allmendinger acknowledged the decision and thanked the team for sticking by him during the testing process in July.
"Effective today, I have been released from Penske Racing as driver of the #22 Dodge Charger," he confirmed. "I wish to thank Mr. Penske, Penske Racing, their sponsors, and especially all the of the No. 22 team for the opportunity they provided me and for their support in this difficult time. I also, again, would like to thank all the fans that really have been awesome through this.
"I apologize for the distraction, embarrassment, and difficulties that my current suspension from NASCAR has provided," he added. "As I stated last week, I have begun NASCAR's Road to Recovery program and look forward to using those resources and its completion to compete again in NASCAR in the near future."
The news of his release from Penske Racing underlines just how difficult it will be for the 30-year-old to get back to full time competitive racing with a top team in the sport even after successfully undergoing the recovery program. Penske gave no indication that it would consider re-hiring Allmendinger in the future once he had served his suspension and finished his program.
It's also embarrassing for Penske Racing and its sponsor, Shell-Pennzoil, which only hired Allmendinger at the end of 2011 after parting company with the previous incumbent of the #22, Kurt Busch, after a stormy season together. To turn over two drivers in under a year in such circumstances is not a comfortable situation for a team owner who prides himself on a well-run ship.
It seems likely that the current stand-in driver in place in the #22, Sam Hornish Jr., will remain in the car for rest of the season. However, the team statement simply said that this would be the case "at Pocono this weekend and for the foreseeable future."
"We talked to the sponsor," team owner Roger Penske said of the decision to keep Hornish in place for the time being. "We think that gives us the most chance to see how Sam develops. Then as we get further down the road, if we want to make a change, we can do that."
The team added that they would be evaluating their options for the 2013 Sprint Cup season in due course.
Speaking to reporters last weekend at Indianapolis, Roger Penske had revealed that, "Quite honestly, our phone is ringing off the hook with people who are interested in the ride in the #22."
Penske had previously said that he intended to meet with Allmendinger mid-week before making the decision that was announced today. "I have a very open mind, but I want to sit down face to face with him, which is the only fair way to do it to determine what is the best thing for the team and for him," he said on Sunday before the Brickyard 400. "There are so many factors. Our policies, you have people within your company if something like this would happen, what action would you take?"
Penske had raised eyebrows by suggesting that Allmendinger was in a different situation as an "independent contractor" to that of a full time Penske staffer who would have been immediately released after a positive drugs result, but he has ultimately decided that letting Allmendinger go was the only realistic response to the situation.
"Bigger people than you have made mistakes and come back and been able to benefit from the experience and be a bigger and better person," Penske revealed that he had told Allmendinger. "I hope that he'll rebound and have a successful career because he's a terrific kid. And it almost feels like it's one of your kids. That's what makes it so tough.
"He realizes it's a serious situation," Penske added.